Here is one very holy character attribute that I hear very few Christians pray for: courage.
Think about this for a moment. How many prayers do you pray, and/or how many prayers do you hear from others that resound with this outcry to God: "Give me courage, O God, to get through my trouble."? Usually the prayer of those in a tight spot is filled with themes of rescue and deliverance; comfort and peace. Rarely, though, do I hear today's Christians in our culture pray for courage to stand... courage to endure... courage to persevere... courage.
For you and I to be developed in our trust in God and His power, we need courage, not deliverance. We need to be carried through our circumstances, not delivered from them. You can't know the miraculous power of God to fill in the gaps of your strength unless you are in a really tight spot that you can't navigate without Him.
This is not a comfy-cozy message, I know. But if you and I can grasp this concept, even for a millisecond, then we will fully understand James who said this: James 1:2-4 NIV Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (4) Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Every admirable person of the Biblical stories is a person who endured great difficulty with courage, and, thereby displayed unspeakable joy and determination in the midst of that difficulty.
Right now you are likely facing some sort of difficulty. Do you want to get out of it, or do you want to get through it? God is not an overprotective parent that ensure we never skin our knees. God wants our character developed into that of Jesus whose very life was a story of courage in the midst of difficulty. Jesus lived a difficult life and died a difficult death. He also lived a courageous life and died a courageous death. Why? Trust ... love ... peace ... perseverance ... surrender ... determination ... obedience ... sacrifice ... courage.
Once courage is fully developed, you will find that you are willing to actually walk into unthinkable solutions with confidence because of the tests you previously passed through. There is no shortcut to this. There is only the navigation of the difficult with great courage that develops the character of Christ in us.
Don't give greater weight to your difficulty than to Christ. Lean into Jesus who endured courageously and pray for courage to pass the test of endurance. Then you're on your way to being complete and lacking nothing.
In the name of "ministry" we sometimes overstay our welcome in the life of a person who absolutely wants nothing to do with Jesus. We beg, we plead, we get overinvolved, we "love" by doing for them things they should be doing for themselves, we invest over and over and over again, we reach out, call, call again, offer advice and counsel... and the list goes on and on. We do all of this in an attempt to mirror Jesus who desires that none should perish. However, many times people actually choose to perish! Sounds crazy, I know, but they do. They love their sin, and no one is going to convince them otherwise. These people are the nemesis of evangelism because there is an entire world dying in their sin while we try desperately to kick the dead horse of one person over and over seeking to raise it to life.
Matthew 10:12-14 NKJV And when you go into a household, greet it. (13) If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. (14) And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.
Our Lord tells us there is only one appropriate thing to do with your feet when you encounter the dead horse. Shake the dust off of them and move on. There is more work to do. There is another set of ears that may hear the message. There is another person who will actually welcome the gospel. There may be another who will cherish your generosity instead of vacuum it up. There is a town, city, county, state, nation and world that will hear. Although it's hard to let go and walk away, that may be the very thing you must do.
Evangelism indicates movement. The work of an evangelist is likened to a sower who has the seed bad at their side. They move and walk systematically through the garden scattering seed. They would never think to stop in one place and dump the whole bag of seed on a rock where the seed will never grow.
Dysfunctional evangelism gets stuck in the mire of people's lives. How do you get out of it? Introduce yourself to someone new you've never met and invest there. Go to a new location and invest there.
So how do we detach from unwilling people without seeming to be arrogant, judgmental, harsh, holier-than-thou, and so forth? Easy, don't do those things. Just move on. If the other person wants to know why you chose to move on (you don't call me, I've not heard from you in a while, etc.) Simply tell them that by their choices your gifts and counsel seemed unwelcomed. Offer yourself again if that condition changes, but not until that time.
But aren't we accountable before God for their lives? We are responsible to the work of the Lord, not responsible for the choices of other people.
Ezekiel 3:18-21 NIV When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. (19) But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself. (20) "Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. (21) But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself."
Are you trying to take over someone's life in the name of evangelism when they really don't want what you're offering? Then hear these words: It's time to move on.
The utter devotion of the Apostle Paul is just astounding to me. His entire life was given to the service of Jesus and to do his own part in helping to spread the gospel. Paul's devotion shows a lack of my own at times. Something he says in his letter to the Philippians is especially striking:
Philippians 1:20-24 NIV (20) I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (21) For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (22) If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! (23) I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; (24) but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
When my prayers reach the place where my only concern is that Christ is exalted regardless of my circumstances; when my prayers are not for escape from trouble but for courage to navigate it; when my discomfort is deflated completely of its power in exchange for the beauty of exalting Christ. That's the way I should live.
However, I usually have a limited supply of exaltation for Christ. Perhaps you're this way too. We exalt Him when we receive an answer to prayer, but not when we're travailing in prayer for the answer. We exalt Him when we've brought into the green pasture, but not while we're navigating the shadow of the valley of death. We praise Him while the music is playing, but cease when the song is ended. That's limited exaltation. That's conditional exaltation. I don't want to be a fair-weather friend to Jesus. I want to be wholly devoted in every way.
What if there's something completely joyful about our faith that we're missing here by living out this limited exaltation? What if exalting Jesus as Lord and King was not only to be a byproduct of deliverance, but also sustenance during difficulty and persecution? So few Christians choose to praise God in the midst of their difficulty, that they likely would not know the benefit if they were to try it. What if reports given as "answers to prayer" were reports of God providing courage to endure, not escape and comfort?
What if all complaint was replaced with exaltation?
What if all prayers for deliverance were turned into prayers for courage?
What if all woe was turned to awe?
What if you and I stopped limiting our exaltation of Jesus in this world?
What if our exaltation of Jesus became truly unending?
Let's try it and see what happens. Perhaps we will discover what Paul did.
May it be so,
Taking action for a specific cause is something that every Christian would agree should be part of our lives. We are to spread justice, love justice, free the oppressed, break the heavy yoke of slavery and set captives free in Jesus' name. However, Christians also believe in moderation when it comes to social justice, so we only take things so far. After all, we wouldn't want to be considered radical now would we?
When the discomfort of oppression and injustice finally reaches the boiling point in the soul, then everything related to it, no matter how harmless it may seem, loses its value to the Christian. In other words, there should come a time when something good is boycotted by the Christian because of the injustice that clings to its side. Hear the word of the Lord through Isaiah:
"The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. (6) Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth's inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left. (7) The new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan. (8) The gaiety of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the revelers has stopped, the joyful harp is silent. (9) No longer do they drink wine with a song; the beer is bitter to its drinkers." (Isaiah 24:5-9 NIV)
Notice verses 8 and 9 in particular. There comes a time when a party is no longer a celebration because the defilement is so great it demands a change of heart.
Even though the name "The Boston Tea Party" has been overtaken by political connotations, it perfectly exemplifies this condition. In those days, perfectly good tea got thrown into the Boston Harbor because a perfectly evil tax needed to cease. The value of shock is that it's shocking. The value of destroying something good is that it kills off the evil that's related to it. Perhaps the Bostonians of old should have just drank their tea and shut up?
It's Super Bowl season. It's the "tea" Americans love to drink... and Christians get their fill. Truth be told, if a church threw a prayer vigil to call upon God to break the chains of slavery on Super Bowl Sunday, no one would show up. While the event itself may be fine, clinging to its side is all kinds of injustice.
The value of shock is two-fold: awareness and demand for change. Football is a fine sport. If we want to see change take place in regards to gross over-spending (a sign of worship) and human oppression, perhaps it's time to throw the tea overboard. Shock that has value.
If you've actually read this entire piece, I thank you. Join me in praying for right priorities for the people of God. That we would make holy judgments and consider our ways before blindly acting upon the world's demands. Pray that our actions would be rooted in heaven instead of the earth. Pray for change.
Over time, it's easy for a church (and, by that, I really mean the people within the church) to become both exclusive and controlling. Now, you may not think this applies to you or your church, but here are a couple of ways we take the Church of Jesus Christ and make it our Burger King Church ... because we want to "have it our way."
Exclusivity is when there are experiences you do not want to share with others. We have the right words... "Everyone is welcome in our church, our group, our gatherings." However, do we have action that align perfectly with our words. Are there gatherings that you really treasure? A small group study that has just the right people mix where all your friends gather? Do you like things just the way they are. You see, you may not be outwardly denying entrance into any experience that you love, but your love may become the guard at the gate to keep people out. If you mourn change within that experience instead of celebrating it, you are likely drifting into the land of the exclusive Burger King Church where you want it your way.
The safe guard for becoming exclusive is to keep your edges fresh when it comes to other people. Take on the mindset that the experience is so wonderful you want the whole world to know about it, and share in it's joy. Make sure you are inviting and reaching out to share your treasured experiences in the church. Isn't that what Jesus did?
Control is when there are service tasks you do not want to share with others. So, you have the task of "X" in the church. You love your task. You have held the position of "X" in the church for years. It's your job. Jesus never kept tasks to Himself, but somehow we think we're supposed to. If someone else comes along with the talent to serve, and the desire to serve, we're fine as long as its not related to "X". If someone else wants job "X" do you become defensive? Why? Is it really about you? Would someone have to pry job "X" from your cold, dead hands? Jesus came and healed the sick, cleansed lepers, raised the dead, cast out demons, and preached the Kingdom of Heaven. Within three years, He had the disciples doing the very same thing! Jesus sent them out to do His job! Jesus even gave away a portion of His power and Authority to do it!
If you think you're not a control freak in your church just ask yourself this question: How would I feel if the tasks I do in my church were given to someone else tomorrow? To safeguard against control, consider actively discipling someone toward taking on your job. Don't do tasks within the church alone. Get someone to do it with you. Do that with the intent of launching the person instead of protecting your job. Trust me, Jesus will have more for you to do.
No one wants to be wrong. Do you? Do you like to be told you're wrong? Probably not. If you're like most people you like encouragement, "attaboys", pats-on-the-back, gold stars, grades of A+ and so on. When we've done wrong we prefer to be told "oh, that's okay ... don't worry about it." Then we move on. However, sometimes we need to hear difficult truth. The more difficult the truth the greater the chance that we can truly move beyond whatever spiritual disease is at the root of that problem to a more Christ-like place in our lives. Ignore the truth and you'll never be transformed.
But... there are times when our hands reach for stones with which to pummel the messenger and squelch the truth instead of letting the truth squelch our behavior. Consider the hard truth spoken to the Pharisees by Stephen, and their response:
Acts 7:51-58a NIV "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (52) Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— (53) you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it." (54) When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. (55) But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (56) "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." (57) At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, (58a) dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.
Before the truth has a shot at transforming you, be sure you're not taking shots at the truth.
Leaders, it seems, are the ones who have the hardest time hearing the truth. Why? many reasons:
They killed the prophets. They killed Jesus. They killed Stephen. They killed countless other messengers of the truth. Do you reach for stones or do you let the truth reach for your own stony heart?
Many Christians today are facing an enormous crisis in their identity. Who are we, exactly? Believers? Followers? Disciples? Saved? Children? The short answer is yes, we are all those. However, there are aspects of the Christian identity that should translate into the Christian mission that are missing in most Christians today. These identities, which define our daily living much more than our church attending, are timeless in their relevance. Culture doesn't matter if we are embracing these identities. And, if we successfully embrace them, the crisis will be over.
#1 - Repeat After Me ... "Jesus shares His authority and power with me"
Somehow, we have adapted a false identity of "helpers of Jesus." We believe He is at work and yes, He has all the power and authority, but we don't accept that for ourselves. Jesus gathered His disciples and gave them power and authority because it was His to give. You can't do anything worth while for the Kingdom without Jesus' power and authority. Perhaps we've dropped this critical point of our identity because we have no desire to be accountable to Jesus. If we don't take up the authority and power given to us, then we certainly can't be blamed for not using it? Not true. There's a reason this power and authority is given, which leads us to number two...
#2 - Repeat After Me ... "I have been called to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons"
Here we find conditions of the human race that are true in any nation, language and/or culture. People are sick. People die. People are diseased with leprosy, and people are demonized. And you are called to do something about this. This has never changed. How did we lose this? We gather and celebrate around the sacraments and that is wonderful and glorious, but while we're worshiping inside the walls, people are dying outside our walls. Jesus sends, not just gathers. He wants you to go with power and authority and do all of these things. If you and I take up this part of our identity, we will see fulfillment in ministry that far outweighs getting an "attaboy" for planning a church dinner. Jesus has never modified the job description of His disciples ... it's still the same.
#3 - Repeat After Me ... "I live for the honor of Jesus and His Kingdom"
You are not living for yourself anymore ... not even in relation to your church. The false identity many Christians have taken up is that we do Jesus some kind of favor by "accepting him" like a friend request on FaceBook, then take time to shop for a church and turn our nose up at many until we find one that serves us well. (Insert LOUD gameshow buzzer sound here) STOP. No. Jesus did you an incredible "favor" (if you will) by dying for you. When you get this, you will find that your entire life is surrendered into His will. You will no longer care about your own honor or reputation, you will only care about Jesus' honor and reputation. You will not care about establishing your own future, you will burn passionately to see His Kingdom come to earth through your voice and hands. You have exchanged personal honor for Kingdom honor. You are to bring honor to Jesus!
#4 - Repeat After Me ... "I have keys in my pocket that others don't have"
Jesus gave His disciples the "keys of the Kingdom." You and I are included in this gift if we will hold out our hands and receive them. Again, this comes with accountability, power and authority. Wherever you bind, things are bound... wherever you loose, things are released. Wherever there are chains of bondage, you have the keys no one else has to free the captive. While churches are chasing relevance, this identity works in any nation, language and culture. The name of Jesus is powerful no matter what kind of packaging it's in.
#5 - Repeat After Me ... "Jesus is my focus ... everything else is just stuff."
You don't chase the world or its glitter and glamor. They are not shiny anymore. You chase hard after Jesus... period. You do not listen to the voices of the world. They are meaningless. You listen hard for the voice of Jesus ... period. You do not engage in the fads of the world. They are exhausting. You focus on the timeless things of Jesus... period.
It's time to exchange your current church identity for the identity Jesus chose for you from the beginning. Stop trying to be relevant and be obedient to the original mission. it just works.
Today, few people speak directly to other people with directness. We beat around the bush, We avoid speaking truth at all. We conjure up false stories that aren't the truth in order to make the delivery of the message more soothing to the hearer. God is not that way. God is truth and God speaks only truth. The good news is that God is love and God only speaks the truth in love.
That doesn't mean that you and I enjoy hearing the truth when it's spoken, nor do we like speaking the truth when it needs to be spoken. Today, more than ever I believe, the church could use the ability to speak truth and speak it like God, in love... to each other, to the world, to their families, and to themselves. It's time for a skin-thickening dose of truth that stirs us to a more peaceful state.
Removing truthful words only stirs chaos. The removal of the truth is an exaltation of the lie. Where there is no truth (God) there is only exaltation of the lie (Satan). Which do you prefer to exalt? We are all well aware of situations where we have been afraid of hearing or speaking the truth. The truth eats at us inside creating a stirring of emotions and imaginations. The devil is right there to lead us to believe that speaking the truth will have horrible consequences. Scenarios begin to play out in our minds like giant movie screens where people erupt, disown, hate, hurl insults, harm, and the like. Since we like a good movie, we resist the truth. We relent from it and return to either silence or a lie. The conversation goes on inside our head, but it never comes out.
God wants us to be at peace and will stir the truth in us until it creates peace. Sometimes the truth hurts because we have become numb to directness. Until we stop fearing directness and learn to handle one another with both truth and grace, we will never mature as Christians. All of this requires balance. You must be as willing to hear the truth as you are to speak it, and you must be as willing to love someone in the midst of the truth as much as you desire love from the one delivering it to you.
But we will never achieve interpersonal truthfulness if we can't accept God's truthfulness. To the degree we accept truth from God will reflect the degree to which we can accept one another. Paul instructed the Romans in this way:
Romans 15:1-7 NKJV We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (2) Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. (3) For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME." (4) For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (5) Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, (6) that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (7) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
Bear with the weak ... please the neighbor ... be likeminded. None of these statements imply dysfunction. To bear with one another is not to give in to their abuses. After all, it is mutual good and edification we're after. Good and edification require the stirring of the truth to bring us to a place of peace. Stirring toward peace is God's way. Stirring toward peace should be our way.
Don't fear the offense that may be caused by the truth. Rather, fear the sin that is caused by the lack of the truth.
Spiritual Formation is the ongoing work of holiness in the person, brought on by ongoing encounters with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the discoveries made both in ones sinful self as well as God and His holiness, as a result of those divine encounters. It is the ongoing acceptance of God's ways over our own and exchanging our wages-of-sin for His gift-of-life, by living the gift more and more each moment.
Remember the time you were introduced to friend for the very first time? You know, the usual small talk ensues. "Hi, my name is ..." "What is your name?" "What do you do for a living? ... Where do you live?" etc. There was a time when you and I were introduced to Jesus for the first time too. Initial acknowledgement of Jesus is encounter #1, but it is far from the end of our encounters we will have with God.
After a first introduction, there is no way to know everything about a person. In fact, the only thing you know is that you do not know everything about them. It's just not possible. One encounter with God is no different. You can't possibly know Him ... really know Him... through a singular encounter.
Newsflash ... You can't rid yourself of the inward darkness you possess unless you are exposed to the Light of Christ, and you will never encounter the layers of darkness within unless you encounter the depths of the Light of Christ.
So, what are these encounters? How do I engage in this process of discovery-through-encounter?
#1: Erase Misconceptions: Namely that you know God really well, and you know yourself really well. You don't. If His ways are unsearchable, then we must search them out. He is worth seek and invites us to seek. He invites us into the deep so that His "deeper still" will call out to us. If you and I were self-aware of our own faults, we'd rid ourselves of them on our own. Your darkness won't seem dark at all until it's dragged into the light. So, you must rid your mind of the misconceptions that you know God, and yourself, really well. No. In fact, the only thing we truly know, is that there is so much we really don't know at all.
#2: Pray to be taught through experiences. Instead of praying for "requests," pray to be taught God's through experiences. Pray revelation of any way within you that does not honor Him. Pray for blinders to be removed from your eyes. Pray that testing grounds will be given to you so that you may learn.
#3: Soak in His Word. The Word of God is revelation, inspiration, instruction, correction, knowledge, wisdom, Light, Truth, and Power (just to name some of its attributes). The same verse can have layers of revelation which can only be unearthed over time. Read and re-read. Soak and learn. Reflect and apply.
#4: Pray for His Voice and Presence: Ask God to speak to you. Ask for the ability to sense His presence. Express your willingness to obey His voice when something is asked of you. Offer to lay down anything you are asked to surrender, and commit to take up anything offered to You by God.
Spiritual formation is not formulaic, it's a garden that can only grow when the soil has been prepared. Do these four things and you will be well on your way to a flourishing garden, because you're doing right things with the soil. And be reminded, this is an ongoing work. Commit to it for life and you will receive "Life to the full" and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN, may it be so for you.
In the Kingdom of God prayer is implied.
In the life of the disciples of Christ, prayer is essential.
In the world around us, answers to impossible problems can only come through prayer... actual praying.
If this is true, then we need to ask this question, "Why do many (very many) Christians pray little-to-none?"
In prayer, our own selves must be fully subordinated to God. Self-subordination, self-denial, selflessness, are all holy paths to God, but not popular paths to take. This surrender of ourselves, both the posture of it and the results of it, are not common practice in the world, but they are holy practice in the Kingdom of God. Here are ten facets of the gem of prayer and praying. They are holy - Jesus-like - and signs of true spiritual formation.
To surrender ourselves to God so that He may care for our souls, we must submit to Him…
Start praying - Let God in - Surrender all - Be overcome with Joy - Be clay in His hands.
Knowing God and being formed into the image of His Son is a progressive work within each person that requires a partnership between God and man. The partnership is a formula of revelation and impartation from God, mingled with surrender and seeking on the part of man. We offer ourselves up and He reveals Himself. The revelation and impartations of God take us ever further into calling and purpose. We become more like Jesus so we can minister and live more like Jesus. We minister and live more like Jesus so we can see His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. This is the ongoing process of spiritual formation. But is it really that simple and that easy? Well, not really.
The depths of God must be revealed incrementally. Not because He's slow, but because we can only handle the increments. You see, the road to depth in God, and the road of true spiritual transformation is paved with great difficulty. Like the road to the cross for Jesus, your road to depth in Jesus is a mirror of the stations of the cross. The road to Calvary took one difficult step after another. The nails of Calvary were driven one at a time. The cruelty of Calvary could only be endured one act at a time. The death of Jesus to Himself that was decided in the garden of Gethsemane played out step-by-step, not all-at-once.
As bearers of the cross of Jesus, and bearers of the image of Jesus, we are formed in the same way. The road of our cross-bearing is paved with difficult moments that lead us to resurrection victory. We identify more with Christ in each difficulty and we understand the Father more fully with each encounter. Deciding to follow Jesus calls us to our own death-to-self that must be played out one step ... one nail at a time.
If you and I would say to Jesus, "Reveal to me more of Your Heart ... more of Your likeness ... more of Your glory," then we are, in essence, saying, "Lead me through the stations of my own cross-carrying." No servant is greater than his Master (John 13:16) and we are not exempt from difficulty because of identifying with Jesus. In fact, the followers of Jesus must become like Him in His death (Philippians 3:10).
Job 42:5-6 NIV My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. (6) Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
Job discovered the path to greater depth in God by enduring much pain and agony. The pain caused a disruption in his mind that drove him directly into an encounter with God. The encounter with God brought Job to the heights of human experience in God even though he was in the depths of human suffering. That height was hearing the voice of God Himself as a Teacher... a Teacher who revealed more of Himself to Job. Job responds in kind by saying what I believe is the most profound confession in the whole story: "My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You." The formation of Job on his road to depth was paved with difficulty. In the end, he saw God.
Like it or not, comfort and ease are never the true friends of the Christian. They are deceitful and entice us from true spiritual growth. The compassion of God is discovered in human difficulty. The resurrection power of God is found in human death. The voice of God is heard in the midst of deafness. The love of God is brighter in the midst of human hatred. The healing of God is found among illness and disease.
Incrementally, one step and one nail at a time, you and I are being formed into the likeness of Jesus. Our path is paved with difficulty and glory intermingled into an experience that is only understood by those truly walking it. I pray revelation and impartation from the Father for you today, and that you and I join Job in saying, "now my eyes have seen you."
Moses knew that the law wasn't enough. Moses knew that favor with God wasn't enough. Moses knew that miracles weren't enough. Take a moment and read these three accounts of Moses' conversations with God.
Exodus 33:14-15 NIV The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." (15) Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.
Exodus 33:18-23 NIV Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." (19) And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (20) But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (21) Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. (22) When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. (23) Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."
Exodus 34:5-7 NIV Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. (6) And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, (7) maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
Moses asks for two things beyond favor, miracles and laws: Presence and Glory. Moses wanted an experience of God that had a "PG" rating at its foundation. Nothing else would do. God can do great "things" but Moses wanted to know the God of the things with great intimacy. Moses sought to see just how close God would allow Him to get. Israel may have wanted deliverance but Moses wanted the Deliverer. Israel wanted freedom from slavery, but Moses wanted to be a bondservant of the Master. Israel sought an image to worship, but Moses wanted to live in the presence of the One who made us in His image.
Presence is closeness and nearness.
Glory is the weight of holiness and purity and majesty.
Think about your own experience with God. How much of it is run through filters of church, people, methods, programs, titles, who-said-what, who-hurt-whom, what-we're-doing, what-we're-not-doing, me, my calling, my abilities, discontent, contentment, music style, etc.? If anything in this list hits home for you and rises above the greater desires of presence and glory, then you have an "R-Rated" experience... Religious.
The stream of God never runs from religion into His Presence and Glory. The stream always runs from presence and glory into a living religion. The test to see if your religion flows out of presence and glory can be found as the LORD Himself proclaims His "Name" to Moses... which was NOT an identifier, but a list of His character traits and qualities. Compassionate ... gracious ... slow to anger ... abounding in love and faithfulness .... maintaining love ... forgiving wickedness ... that is the kind of God we serve and worship. Does the stream of your life flow with the same things that flow from God? If you have a "PG" experience with God, then yes, it will. However, if you've exchanged His presence and glory for an "R-rated" religious experience, the flow of your life may not line up with God's character and holiness.
These are two things that have never changed with God. Old Covenant or New, Israel or the NT Church, in Eden or the New Jerusalem, in the Temple of old or in the temple within each true believer, the presence and glory of God is the hallmark of authentic experience and worship.
Brett Heintzman is passionate about the spiritual formation of God's people. These writings are designed to draw us close to God and to help us live out of the riches of His presence. It's all about being in the world but not of the world.